This generation’s most historic funeral

I joined the world in witnessing this morning the most historic funeral in the lifetimes of most of us. Millions (BBC reports two million Poles alone) gathered in the Vatican for the funeral of Pope John Paul II. More than two hundred political leaders paid last respects to the pope.

A woman started the service with a reading from Acts 10 and the mass included readings from the Gospels, singing of Psalm 23, reading the Nicene Creed, singing of phrases in Italian such as “Lord, have mercy on me” brought responses ranging from applause to tears in the crowd.

I was moved to tears several times during the service: for example, at one point the Lord’s Prayer was spoken, and I joined, by myself in the living room but really with perhaps two billion people worldwide. Katie Couric said this is a prayer recited in liturgy of all branches of the Christian faith, and that’s nearly true.

John Paul II was indeed a unifying pope for the people and one who Poles call not only a national hero but a national redeemer, one who is partly credited for the eventual fall of communism, who traveled to 130 countries preaching the peace and hope of Christ with the words, “Don’t be afraid.”

Twice I’ve written long posts about the pope but having problems with blogger, so I’ll suffice to say what I have at this point and know that the world is also writing and listening to one another, as Tim Russert said, whether Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, agnostic, atheist, Buddist, the turning of humanity from this funeral is a turning inwardly to understand how we can be better human beings, to understand how the pope embodied Christ’s mission to the poor and oppressed and hopeless. We then turn back outwardly toward how we might make the world a better place.

As another observer said, this is not separated by historic event and spiritual. The impact of the pope cuts across those denominational and social lines and helps us see that to be truly human, we live the life that Jesus set out for us, and heed the call of the homily during the funeral, “follow me, follow me.”

As the simple cypress coffin was taken out, the choir sang the Magnificant, a fitting song for a man who took up the cause of women, who as Sister Rita Burley said, was one of the first popes to fully bless and affirm “the genius of women.”

As Darryl Tippens, Todd Bouldin, and I write more about on Wineskins home page and Wineskins Blog, the pope was an incredible human being, social and spiritual shaper of generation. May we all learn something from his life and make it part of the life that we live as we follow Christ.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

One comment on “This generation’s most historic funeral

  1. The following editorial by Rudy Taylor was printed in all Taylor Newspapers (seven weeklies in southeast Kansas) this week:

    Mighty oaks, Sister Jones, holy icons
    all reach out to the same loving God

    We’ve all learned a lot, over the past two weeks, about how to choose a pope. The traditions surrounding the Vatican are fascinating and the world has been captured by the death of one beloved pope and the selection of the next one.
    While the Sistine Chapel is a long way from the tiny church where I found my spiritual roots as a child, there are similarities.
    Males ruled in my little country church, just as they do in Vatican City.
    Our leaders were old, or at least I thought they were. Catholics, too, see wisdom in white hair.
    Although sacramental wine would never have been allowed in our little country church, I do recall the communion grape juice getting a little stout as it fermented.
    The sisters in our church didn’t wear special attire. But they were sisters just the same. Sister Jones, Sister Horton, Sister Walker. Every woman in the church was a sister.
    We called our leaders “elders,” and scoffed at the idea that some churches had bishops. Imagine the surprise one Sunday when the preacher explained that elders and bishops were interchangeable titles.
    Cardinals were red birds that chirped outside the church windows in the summertime. Maybe they were trying to tell us something — do you suppose?
    Our music was totally a cappella — no strings or instruments for us! And, haven’t you enjoyed the beautiful echoes of choral music from the Vatican as ancient traditions were exercised.
    Our little church was surrounded by mighty oak trees, our version of a steeple.
    We observed our rules, just as the Vatican clings to its own. We weren’t allowed to eat inside the church house. So, when we had a carry-in dinner, the men would carry several pews outside and place them under the trees. Then big boards were placed across the pews to serve as tables.
    Over the centuries, Cardinals have dined on everything from fine tables to the bare floor. I think they would have felt right at home at one of our basket dinners in the country.
    Catholics are known for their statuaries, artwork and holy icons. A picture of The Last Supper was the only artwork in our church. Whether it’s one, or a gallery full of them, the local flock gains inspiration from such memorials.
    Most importantly, our little church taught that a man named Jesus Christ was sent to this world to die on behalf of all of us, and his Holy Spirit remains in our hearts today to guide us, teach us and comfort us.
    That same Spirit resides in the hearts of those who wear red robes and create white smoke in the chimney to announce their new leader.
    So, whether it’s wooden planks across church pews or the aroma of incense during church, there is a tie that binds all who are wise enough to seek the Son of God as the compass of their lives.
    Mighty oaks or mighty steeples — all reach up to a God who loves us.


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